DULUTH - The Arena at Gwinnett Center is hosting games in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament for the first time, but Georgia didn't need Friday's practice to get used to the surroundings.
Coach Andy Landers' team is 5-1 in the building, including a victory over Clemson in December. That may be just the edge the Bulldogs need as they go into the field with their lowest seeding ever.
Georgia, the 11th seed in the Trenton regional, will play sixth-seeded Arizona State at noon today in the opener of a first-round doubleheader. Third-seeded Florida State will play No. 14 seed North Carolina A&T in the second game at 2:30 p.m.
Georgia, only 18-13 this season, just made it into the NCAA field for the 17th consecutive year as the final of seven teams from the SEC. But it is Arizona State, ranked No. 19 nationally, that had to travel across the country.
"Bottom line is that we are here and we would not be in the NCAA Tournament unless we knew how to win on the road," ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said.
The Bulldogs have missed the tournament just twice in their 28-year history, the 26 appearances second only to Tennessee's perfect record. Georgia, though, almost was bypassed this time.
"We realized the bubble and the size of the bubble," Bulldogs coach Andy Landers said after the pairings were released. ". . . We knew that we had a chance to get in and a chance to be left out."
The Bulldogs go into the tournament feeling relief and a big edge in fan support in the Arena at Gwinnett Center should certainly help. It will be needed.
While Georgia is not ranked for the first time since the 1981-82 season, ASU comes into its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament with a 23-8 record. The Sun Devils were 15-3 during the Pac-10 regular season before being upset by Southern California in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
In addition to having to travel so far, the Sun Devils will be without Dymond Simon. The All-Pac 10 second-team choice injured a knee in the final regular-season game.
If Simon was healthy, the game would have been an interesting matchup of top point guards with Georgia's Ashley Houts.
"Arizona State is a tough team with or without Dymond Simon," Houts said.
Georgia, though, will now have another edge in addition to fan support.
"I definitely think (today's) game will feel like a home game," Houts said. "Hopefully, our fan base will turn out. We're excited to be playing close to home so that many of our families can see us."
The first-round winners will play Monday at 7 p.m. All games are on ESPN2.
Tickets for both sessions are $30 for adults and $20 for students. Daily tickets are $20 and $12 today, and $15 and $10 on Monday.
Connecticut, featuring Collins Hill graduate Maya Moore, has been ranked No. 1 all season and is the top No. 1 seed in the Trenton regional. The Huskies (33-0) are joined as No. 1 seeds by Oklahoma (28-4), Maryland (28-4) and Duke (26-5).
FSU is the highest-ranked team in the local field at No. 12. The Seminoles (25-7) tied Maryland for first place during the ACC regular season and lost to Duke in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
N.C. A&T (26-6) won the MEAC title and owns a victory over aAtlantic 10 champion Charlotte. A MEAC team has never won a NCAA Tournament game.